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French prosecutor says students helped killer find teacher

Sylvie Corbet
Associated Press

Paris – The 18-year-old suspected killer of a French teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class paid students to help him identify the victim, France’s terrorism prosecutor said Wednesday.

Prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old are among seven people who appeared before an investigating magistrate on accusations of “complicity in murder in relation with a terrorist undertaking” and “criminal conspiracy.”

The suspect in Friday’s slaying of teacher Samuel Paty, who was attacked and beheaded near Paris, offered students at the school where Paty taught 300-350 euros ($355-$415) to help him pick out the educator, Richard said during a news conference.

A demonstrator displays on his back a portrait of slain teacher Samuel Paty during a demonstration Sunday Oct. 18, 2020 in Paris.

“The investigation has established that the perpetrator knew the name of the teacher, the name of the school and its address, yet he did not have the means to identify him,” the prosecutor said. “That identification has only been possible with the help of students from the same school.”

“That’s why the anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office has decided to prosecute two under-18 minors whose implication in the identification of the victim for the killer has appeared to be conclusive,” he said.

A terror investigation is under way into Paty’s killing. Authorities have identified the killer as Abdoullakh Anzorov., an 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee who was later shot dead by police.

Anzorov claimed responsibility in a text accompanied by a photograph of the victim that were found on his phone.

The other suspects also include a student’s father who posted videos on social media that called for mobilization against the teacher and an Islamist activist who helped the man disseminate the virulent messages, which named Paty and gave the school’s address, Ricard said.

People gather on Republique square during a demonstration Sunday Oct. 18, 2020 in Paris. Demonstrations around France have been called in support of freedom of speech and to pay tribute to a French history teacher who was beheaded near Paris after discussing caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad with his class.

Two more men, aged 18 and 19, are accused of having helped the attacker by accompanying him when he bought the weapons, including a knife and an airsoft gun, that were found near the 18-year-old’s body, according to the prosecutor. One of them allegedly drove Anzorov, who lived in the Normandy town of Evreux about 90 kilometers (56 miles) of the school, to near the school about three hours before the killing.

Another 18-year-old suspect had close contacts with the attacker and endorsed radical Islamism, Ricard said.

Al three of them, who were friends of Anzorov, allegedly said that “he was ‘radicalizing’ for several months, marked by a change of behavior, physical appearance, isolation, an assiduous frequentation of the mosque and ambiguous remarks about Jihad and the Islamic State group.”

On Wednesday morning, the French government issued an order to dissolve a domestic militant Islamic group, the Collective Cheikh Yassine. Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said it was “implicated, linked to Friday’s attack” and it was used to promote anti-republican hate speech. Other groups will be dissolved “in the coming weeks” for similar reasons, Attal said.

Named after a slain leader of the Palestinian Hamas, Collective Cheikh Yassine was founded in the early 2000s by the Islamist activist who is among the seven people accused of being accomplices to the attacker.

Attal also confirmed that the government ordered a mosque in the northeast Paris suburb of Pantin to close for six months.

The Pantin mosque is being punished for relaying the angry father’s message on social media.

Authorities say it has long had an imam following the Salafist path, a rigorous interpretation of the Muslim holy book.

A national memorial event is scheduled to be held Wednesday evening in the courtyard of the Sorbonne university.